Director: Noah Baumbach
Writers: Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig
Stars: Greta Gerwig, Mickey Sumner, Adam Driver, Michael Zegan, and Michael Esper
Frances (Greta Gerwig) is a twenty-seven year old dancer who shares an apartment with her college friend Sophie (Mickey Sumner). Their friendship is close and is based on a platonic love for each other. Their friendship also prevents them from growing as individuals.
When Dan (Michael Esper), Frances’ pseudo boyfriend, asks Frances to move in with him, she stalls on her answer. She still has two months on her lease with Sophie and hopes to renew with her. When Frances and Dan’s conversation is interrupted by a phone call from Sophie, a line has been crossed in the sand. Later that night Frances meets Sophie at a bar with Benji (Michael Zegan) and Lev (Adam Driver), and together they have a drunk o’l time.
But Frances’ status quo does not last. Sophie tells Frances that she intends to move to another part of New York with another roommate. A part of the City Frances cannot afford.
What follows is Frances’ journey of self discovery. As the story moves forward from one temporary home address to another, Frances’ awareness of her current life becomes more and more clear. As those around her move forward in their life she does not–eventually regressing at one point. But as she gets knocked down by life she stands herself back up.
The story is well acted and well written, but there is something off with the pacing. At ninety minutes the film should not feel long, but it drags at one stretch. On the positive, the dialogue is natural and smart–not necessarily in a witty way but more a reactive way. Meaning, Frances’ responses during conversations are relatable and familiar–you may not respond/act like she does in a specific situation, but you understand where she is coming from.
Greta Gerwig as Frances is incredible. She is in almost every scene of the film and carries it well. Her reactions, speech intonations, body language are all natural and fitting to the character. The other actors, though, are not in her league. The closest is Michael Esper as Dan–unfortunately he is only around for one short–but very insightful–scene at the beginning of the film. Whether it is because of their performances or the script, both Michael Zegan and Adam Driver as Benji and Lev, respectively, are too much like characters and not real people. As for Mickey Sumner, she is OK as Sophie. You never get why Frances and Sophie are such great friends, or why Frances wants her back in her life so much.
The greatest strength of the film is its gorgeous cinematography in black & white. Scenes are staged and lit to maximize contrast. When Dan asks Frances to move in with him she is shot against a white wall sitting on a light sofa wearing black. He is shot against a kitchen cast in dark shadow wearing black. Throughout the film there are numerous and similarly well composed scenes.
The editing by Jennifer Lame should also be commended. There are wordless scenes that can be used in a class as perfect examples of how good editing is used to convey character. How quick-cuts of character actions or routines can convey personality and future motivation.
Though Frances Ha had a slightly flabby second act, you will be happier for watching it because of smart dialogue, good acting, and great visuals.
Grade = B+